Interview with David Malone – President of the IDRC

10 10 2009

David MaloneI am very excited to announce that this week I was lucky enough to meet Mr. David Malone, current President of the IDRC, at the Mc Gill Conference on Global Food Security which was being held in Montreal, where he was one of the speakers. He is obviously a very busy man, but he graciously accepted to do a brief email interview for me for the McGill International Development Studies Students Association (IDSSA).

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is:
“...a Crown corporation created by the Parliament of Canada in 1970 to help developing countries use science and technology to find practical, long-term solutions to the social, economic, and environmental problems they face. Our support is directed toward creating a local research community whose work will build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies.”
(taken from the IDRC website- About Us)

1. Mr. Malone, what did you study in your university degree(s)?

“Business Administration (Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, Montreal, BA); Arabic Studies, American University of Cairo (diploma); Publkic Administration, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government (MPA); International Relations (Oxford University, D.Phil.), . “

2. What was the most influential and/or helpful class that you have ever taken and why?

“A History class focused on the Middle East taught by the great Arab historian Hana Batatu, which focused on 12 famous and much admired books on the region, including one of his own on the revolutionary movements of Iraq.  As the course ran on throughout term, it became apparent (although many of us failed to detect the evidence on our own) that the thesis advanced in each of these books was vitiated by a fatal methodological flaw in research methods.  This gave us all a lot to think about.”

3. What influenced your decision to enter the field of international development?

I had lived in the Middle East (Iran) and Africa (Nigeria) as a boy and teenager.  Then and ever since, I have been drawn to the developing world.  During my first assignment abroad for External Affairs (as the Canadian foreign and trade ministry then was known), in the late 1970s, I was asked by CIDA to oversee locally much of their programming in Sudan.  There, virtually every Canadian project failed, for a wide variety of reasons.  This also gave me a lot to think about.  The basic problem was that we had clear ideas on what we could offer while the Sudanese, too polite to contradict us, had little actual use for our programming. I learned that listening carefully and probing interlocutors systematically in order to attempt to ascertain their true views is both time-consuming and immensely important. I have been engaged in the study of development or aspects of development assistance allocations for much of my life since then.”

4. What would you say is your greatest achievement?

Discovering that I could still learn when I tackled my D.Phil studies at age 41. “

5. How did you first get started in the field of international development? (i.e. How did you get your foot in the door?)
“(see above)”

6. If you could give students interested in the field of international development one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Good intentions in and of themselves rarely achieve much, although they are required in order ultimately to do good.  Acquiring practical and analytical skills (including organizational, writing and public speaking skills) is more difficult and more important than simply wanting to do good. Much as I love broad swathes of the developing world, I always try to avoid romanticizing it and to avoid imposing my own template of values and priorities on it.  Other countries move at their own pace, for their own reasons.  We need to respect this, even as we work with partners there to improve economic and social prospects.  Otherwise, we risk antagonizing our hosts and frustrating ourselves.”

Once more, I wish to publicly thank Mr. David Malone for agreeing to this interview upon such short notice and for giving such thoughtful and inspiring answers to simple questions.

– Sarah Topps








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